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Manga vs. Comics

American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero tradition; names like Marvel Comics & DC Comics come to mind which brought us heroes like the Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Ghost Rider, X-Men, Spiderman, Superman, and the Justice League. (-- The DC Comics Encyclopedia –) CLICK  HERE  TO  GET  THIS  BOOK!

Superheroes came at a time when the “world” was in turmoil (after WWII) and a special someone was needed to set things right! Superhero comics replaced the old DC (detective comics) of an older generation of readers.

Costumes & secret identities were a big thing with these Superhero comics, often centering the story on a young person who had suffered from self-doubt and mundane problems, and was somehow flawed, a freak, or a misfit.


American comics are magazines containing sequential art in the form of a narrative and mostly containing a serious and /or action-oriented subject. A long-form comic book, generally with hardcover or trade-paper binding is now known as a graphic novel. (-- Marvel Comics Encyclopedia –) CLICK  HERE  TO  GET  THIS  BOOK!

Comic books in America are a cultural artifact that represents an indigenous American art form. The rarest comic books in existence today, include copies of the unreleased Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 from 1939.

Japanese comics are known for the facial features in which a character’s eyes, nose, and mouth are drawn in an extremely exaggerated manner using very few lines in which the image is a representation of an idea, rather than a depiction of reality.

Manga is a widely respected art form in Japanese culture and is created for every age group and every topic, including action-adventure, romance, sports and games, historical drama, comedy, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, horror, sexuality, business and commerce. (-- Manga Studio Debut 4 (Win/Mac –) CLICK  HERE  TO  GET  THIS  PROGRAM!

A book-size manga often contains many stories each presented in a single episode to be continued in the next issue. If the series is successful, collected chapters may be republished in books called tankōbon, the equivalent of a paperback. The shōnen are geared for boys and the shōjo geared toward girls with more decorative artwork.

What makes Manga popular are the “whimsical pictures”, which is what “manga” literally means. Traditionally, manga are written from top to bottom and right to left, as this is the traditional reading pattern of the Japanese written language.

Manga depicted:  Naruto; Alichino; Card Captor; Sailor Moon; Hibiki’s Magic; Inuyasha; Ultra Maniac; Fruits Basket.

In Japan there are many manga cafés where people can drink coffee and read manga, and sometimes stay there overnight. These places host a variety of other activities including video games, internet access, television shows, snack bars, vending machines, and a smoking room. Entrance fee required.

One of the biggest titles known internationally is Sailor Moon, which has been translated /exported in 23 countries.

The Japanese manga industry has a large number of awards it gives out each year recognizing best selling series and Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also begun awarding the International Manga Award since May 2007.

-- Could the first American original comic book have been created by a Japanese immigrant? --

"Comics," as we usually think of them, are pictures with "word balloons" in sequential panels that tell a story. They mainly take the form of short newspaper "comic strips" and longer "comic books." As Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams note in the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, comic strips achieved their modern form in the United States starting around 1896, the year Richard Felton Outcault's Yellow Kid ran in the American Humorist weekly supplement in the New York Journal. For at least three decades almost all comics were short serialized newspaper strips, not the "comic books" we have today.

Comic books with original material are often said to have started around February 1935, when New Fun was issued by DC comics. Prior to that time there were some comic "books," but these were merely newspaper comic strips compiled into book form and sold as collections or anthologies. New Fun was a magazine published with all original material, much of it authored by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, a former cavalry officer and pulp fiction writer. Its success set the stage for classic American comic book titles such as Superman and Batman, which appeared in 1938 and 1940, respectively.

So how does Kiyama's book fit into all this? According to surviving San Francisco Japanese-language newspaper accounts, he exhibited his entire story at Kinmon Gakuen ("Golden Gate Institute") in mid-February, 1927. In order to do so, he must have started working on the series in 1926, if not earlier.

The Four Immigrants Manga : A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924

Kazuo Ebina, a San Francisco newspaper columnist who wrote under the pen name of Shunshuro for the Nichi Bei, or The Japanese American News, visited the 1927 exhibit and noted that Kiyama had created his comic in the hopes of having it serialized in a newspaper. Indeed, when it was exhibited it consisted of 52 episodes of 12 panels each, corresponding to one year's weekly serialization in a newspaper. It was then titled Manga Hokubei Iminshi, or "A Manga North American Immigrant History."

Why was Kiyama unable to serialize his story in a newspaper? A variety of reasons come to mind. First, it was extremely long (104 pages). In those days an artist trying to sell a story for newspaper serialization would never have created an entire, integral work of so many pages (with a beginning and even an end!) for submission. Furthermore, it was probably too documentary in nature and too adult in content. In the 1920s comic strips were read by the whole family, and they did not deal with racism and social and political issues the way Kiyama's work did. Finally, the bilingual nature of his comic required that readers understand both Japanese and English. This meant that the only publications capable of serializing his story were the few local Japanese language papers in major cities in the United States.

Kiyama eventually elected to self-publish. He had his work printed in Japan at Kumaya Printers in Tokyo on January 25th and then brought it back to America, issuing it as a book titled Manga Yonin Shosei ("The Four Students Comic") on March 3, 1931. For the place of publication, he listed his studio on 1901 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California.

If Kiyama's book appeared four years before New Fun, is it the "first American comic book"? It could be, but it depends on how one defines a comic book, and not everyone agrees on a definition today. Some people would argue passionately that the first comic books were humorous Japanese illustrated woodblock print books from the 18th century, or European illustrated books from the 19th century. Kiyama's book also does not resemble a typical modern American "comic book" in the sense that it is hardbound and over 100 pages, as opposed to the magazine-style, stapled publications of thirty or so pages popular today. Its visual style resembles that of U.S. gag newspaper strips popular in the early twentieth century, but its content-- a serious story of an autobiographical nature, using apparently "real" characters, who mature and develop over time-- is closer to a modern "graphic novel" than it is to early comic strips or comic books.

Is Kiyama's work the first "graphic novel"? Is it the first "modern-format American comic book"? Experts will probably find much to discuss and argue about. No matter what their conclusions, it is one of a kind, and the first of its kind.


Frederik L. Schodt
November 5, 1998

-Blackbeard, Bill and Martin Williams, ed. The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press and Harry N. Abrams, 1979.

-Paul Sassienie. The Comic Book: The One Essential Guide for Comic Book Fans Everywhere. London: Ebury Press, 1994.

-Manga Producer & Distributor:  TokyoPop

-Manga Directory & Updates: http://mangable.com/

-Manga Tutorials: http://www.mangatutorials.com/

-20 Common Manga Terms: http://manga.suite101.com/


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